The Demon Hunter was the last class designed for Diablo III, and by the time we got to her, we knew that making highly visual class items worked best. We knew from the first concepts that pistol crossbows would be their signature item. The combat designers liked using quivers as an item that could provide an alternative to dual wielding, or be used to complement a bow or crossbow (it is an unusual item!), and so we had to figure out the third class item.
class concept art always featured different forms of scarves and hoods. The Demon Hunter was meant to fulfill a “Ranger and More” archetype in hour hero lineup, and it made sense to give the character some kind of cloak or poncho for stealthing and skulking. But cloth is a tricky thing.
Diablo III characters use something called engine cloth. When we made characters (or some objects), we designed strings and flaps that hang off the rigid model of the character. Those pieces would be flagged “engine cloth”, and instead of being controlled by the motions designed by an animator, the cloth simulation and physics system would figure out how they should look. Normally, these pieces would hang down. In the wind, they might blow. When the character runs or spins, the cloth
will should react in a natural way.
In practice, we minimized engine cloth. Most parts of our characters were traditionally modeled and rigged to move according to animations. Even things like a
Why not put engine cloth on the Fallen? Wouldn’t the loincloths look more realistic being blown around by Arcane Explosions, or when they fall off a cliff? Well, yes, but each Fallen would be running a tiny physics simulation that the CPU needed to calculate for a very arguable visual benefit. Fallen are small, and they die quickly. They don’t take center stage in the play experience.
Performance mattered to us when making Diablo III. It mattered in a way that isn’t easily appreciated today. Diablo III was designed to look good and play well on quite modest hardware for the time (which was several years ago!). We wanted everyone to be able to play the game, and eating up performance just so we could have 24 tiny Fallen loincloths flapping around in the four seconds before they are exploded just didn’t make sense.
You may look at some of the games you play and see a lot of billowing jackets, or long hair, or flapping coats, but I’ll bet that those characters have fewer components than a Diablo III character.
Look at Scorpion in Mortal Kombat 11. He has a low-hanging, billowy tabard, dangling swords, and little tassels, and they all react realistically to the movement of the character. It would be a lot harder to make those things work if Scorpion could swap out his hood, chest, shoulderpads, gauntlets, swords, and pants. If that were possible, then the artists would have to design his gear options with the understanding that “every one of Scorpion’s shoulderpads needs to be no wider than this or it will penetrate the chest pieces, which can be no thicker than this.” The more variation, the more constraints on character design. Netherrealm artists wisely choose a couple areas of customization for their players. Scorpion can swap out his entire look at once, and separately, his swords, which only contact his body at one point on his hip. Scorpion can also swap out the tip of his chain spear, which is not in danger of conflicting with any part of this body, no matter what design they think up for it. This is the right decision for Mortal Kombat, because it reflects the kind of game it is.
Diablo III characters are highly customizable, because that is what kind of game it is. Heroes need to wear and display their gear, and that means that gear has to be very carefully planned to work in conjunction with each other. Imagine a shoulder pad for a Diablo hero. Does it look good on a Barbarian? Now how does it work on a small-shouldered Wizard? Or a Witch Doctor… remember, their voodoo masks jut out about three feet from the sides of their heads!
So we strategically chose when to use engine cloth, for performance and also to play nice with custom gear selection. And so, when Lead Designer Jay Wilson said that he wanted the Demon Hunter to wear a cloak as a class item, there was quite a bit of pushback.
Late in the production of Diablo III, our artists knew what they were doing. They knew what kinds of ideas worked on our characters and which didn’t, and they did not want to try dangling engine cloth on the new hero. They had worked hard with the Tech Artists to make long jackets work on the Wizards(not with engine cloth), and it was a pain that they did not want to relive. They pushed back hard, and Jay backed off. But a while later, he asked another designer, Jason Bender, to give it a shot.
Months after the initial debate over cloaks had died down, Jason asked for a meeting to talk about making cloaks. I was the one that set it up, and when I sent the invitations to the modeling, rigging, and animation leads, I could actually hear groans. But when we met, I saw a perfect example of a Designer working through a feature with artists. He wasn’t antagonistic at all, he simply asked that they walk him through all the challenges. They told him about issues of interpenetration, of snagging, about how it would sometimes fall through the ground, and the ways that cloaks would cut through other pieces of gear. He asked them what kinds of problems we’d face if he simplified the design in a few critical ways. The artists became quiet, because they suddenly couldn’t find a reason to push back.
It wasn’t like the Artists hated Designers or hated the feature. But towards the end of the project we had all developed twinges of “let’s do what works and not reinvent the wheel”. It sometimes made us defensive. And Jason was able to cut through a months-long stalemate simply by holding the conversation the right way.
The “cloak” we ended up with is really a chest item with a dangling cape. Unlike a real cloak, the cloth doesn’t wrap over the shoulders, which would be a big problem with our shoulderpad items as well as our animation system. Despite appearing to have different lengths and shapes, they use a single geometry, so that the problems of the physics interactions only had to be solved for one design. We use transparency to change the length of the fabric and change the shape of the edges. We art-ify many of the cloaks to look like the fabric starts on the chest and then pulls over to the back, but it’s just a clever illusion done in the texture.
In practice, it looks pretty good. It gives the Demon Hunter a unique way of changing up their silhouette, and it’s very thematically-appropriate. It feels like a special version of a chest armor, which no other class has.
Jason actually left Blizzard before all the Cloaks were completed. He was a terrific collaborator, and I learned a lot from him.
The Common Cloaks in vanilla did a great job of hitting the basic archetypes for the Demonhunter. You have a simple brown, a forest green (critical for the Ranger fantasy), a noble blue, and a taunting crimson. We only got three Legendary Cloaks, but they looked great on the character. As I recall, Aaron Gaines developed all of them from concept to model.
- Beckon Sail was essentially the cloak that the whole feature was invented for. Jay Wilson likes Kate Beckinsale, and he saw the Demon Hunter as his playable Beckinsale hero. The cloak does a pretty good job of recalling her outfit from the
2003 movie Underworld.
- Cape of the Dark Night was Jason Bender’s most basic request – “One of them should be a Batman cape!” I remember pointing out that the Beckon Sail was already going to be a black leather cape, and I didn't see how this one would be at all different. All he said was, “This one would be like Batman!” He was very enthusiastic, and his argument was so stupid that I had no retort. I did like the flavor text he wrote for it: "Those who seek to do evil are a cowardly and superstitious lot." —Demon Hunter Bayne
- The Inquisitor was the glamor cloak, all red, no stealth. It is very pretty, and a good alternative to the dark options.
When it came to plan the Reaper of Souls expansion, we added two new Common Cloaks and two new Legendaries. As usual, Aaron Gaines knocked it out of the park with each.
The two Common Cloaks that we added followed the plan for all Reaper commons- one Westmarch-y Rakkisgard item and one very celestial Ascended item. The
Rakkisgard cloak is beautiful, and reflects Westmarch armor designs perfectly. The Ascended cloak is even more dramatic, giving the Demonhunter a holy-power appearance. For Legendary Cloaks, we had
- Blackfeather – It had occurred to me that one of the coolest cloaks you can have is a feather cloak, and we didn’t have anything like it in the game. I mentioned this to Aaron Gaines, and he was all over it. I had planned to use the flavor text to reference our animator Adam York, but I ended up with something else. I put down "This cloak matches the description of the one worn by the hero in the popular children's tale Yorgie and the Giants." After I wrote it, I started thinking about how all the Demon Hunters are basically orphans who've had their childhoods stolen by violence. I thought that maybe some Demon Hunter would make a cloak like one from a story they had heard as a child. Maybe the last vestige of that Hunter’s innocence was this cloak, and the fact that this cloak has now passed through many hands is a reminder that Demon Hunters don't get to retire. The story made me sad, and I think that's a part of the Demon Hunter class.
- Cloak of Deception – This item was actually developed as part of an abandoned loot mechanic. There was an idea for a special task/quest/mechanic that would take place in Act 2 and would reward the player with one of several items themed to Maghda’s Coven. The designs Vic Lee did for that group were pretty distinctive. The idea being that completing the gameplay system located in the same gameplay zones as the Coven would reward you with one of their artifacts. We supported this gameplay system with a set of “Cult Items”, one of which was good for every class. The feature didn’t make it, but we still ended up with five items all bearing a striking design. The flavor text for the Cult Cloak, like the other Cult Items, reflects the Coven's mastery of stealth: This iridescent cloak, woven from the silk of starlight butterfly larvae, serves to twist sight around it, like a mirage rising off the desert sands.
The Demon Hunter nearly didn't have cloaks. One alternative might have beeen a Phylactery-style amulet to contain demon essences, but class items that don't show up on the model aren't as much fun. Maybe we would have done a series of extravagant boots. We'll never know, because the Diablo team fought each other and then fought together to make it work, like they always did.
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